Boundary setting as a dental practitioner

Damian Siderides, Oral Health Therapist

Working as a dental practitioner requires special knowledge, skills and the ability to set boundaries. 

Set Boundaries


Dental professionals are detail-oriented, driven and can keep calm and in control in challenging situations. However, our greatest strengths can also work against our wellbeing in the long run. 

In today’s bustling world, it’s very easy to take on too many commitments or get carried away with our expectations, leaving us stretched thin and unsatisfied. 

Separating life and work

Clinical work can be intense. Running late and working through breaks can sometimes seem inevitable. It can take some time to decompress after a long day of providing treatment. It is important to identify when you have reached your limits.

Consider the following circumstances. Do you:

  • Regularly leave the clinic late?
  • Work on an empty stomach without stopping to eat or drink water?
  • Feel irritable or tense?
  • Find it hard to wind down?
  • Turn your mind to other things when you get home?

We all experience stress differently, with a large portion coming from the workplace. It is important to reflect, take a moment to recharge and be honest with your expectations and feelings.

Finding the sweet spot

Everyone’s work-life balance needs are different. No two people are the same, so try not to think of your caseload or schedule as something to compare with others. Think about what happens outside of work, too.

I have in the past stretched myself a little thin, working in excess of full-time hours and commuting more than one hour each way to work. This can leave little time to unwind, pursue interests and relationships outside of work. Unhealthy habits tend to creep in when we are time poor and stressed more often than usual, too, like eating fast food and skipping the gym.

Relationships — When was the last time you caught up with your mates? Remember to schedule time to see the people most important in your life. Ensure you routinely switch off from work mode to spend time with people you enjoy being around.

Hobbies — Spending time doing an enjoyable activity that isn't related to work or other commitments will help increase your happiness and satisfaction with life.

Study — Engaging in study can be a rewarding experience, allowing your mind to grow and learn. Equip yourself with the skills and knowledge to balance study, work and social commitments.

Relaxation — Give yourself time to unwind and live in the moment. Dental practitioners and students are increasingly using mindfulness to offset some of the pressures they experience in the workplace, during study and at home.

Be kind to yourself
It’s okay to say ‘No!’

Extra days, more hours, more difficult cases, staff shortages, absences, cancellations, busy periods, equipment problems.

Often, our working environment can change suddenly. And, if we are ambitious individuals, we can attract additional responsibilities and duties. Sometimes these can creep up slowly, and we might fail to notice some warning signs.

Ask yourself:
  • Do you have to commit straight away?
  • What is the opportunity cost here? What am I sacrificing in other parts of my life by taking on this new work responsibility?
  • What are you signing up for? Do you have clear advice and instructions? Will you be supported?

Many senior colleagues and mentors over the years have cautioned me about working more than four or five days a week due to the intensity of clinical work. I have found that gradually increasing work days, rather than over-committing and cutting back later, is a good practice.

Whenever you have decisions to make about your working life, take time to make healthy choices for you with a clear mind.

  • Weigh up the pros and cons of change by writing them down.
  • Don’t ignore your gut instincts.
  • Ask a trusted friend, mentor or advisor for their two cents.
  • Seek professional help. Dental Practitioner Support counsellors are here to provide free and confidential support 24/7 to dental practitioners and students Australia-wide — 1800 377 700.
  • Don’t ever feel pressured to make a big decision about your working week straight away.

Assertive communication is an essential skill for dental practitioners and establishes healthy boundaries, allowing your needs to be heard and met.

Reimagining your career

Have you tried non-clinical roles or a side venture? Professional life means continuous improvement, but there are many different avenues available that differ from clinical work.

Consider if a change in work or adding an additional aspect to your role is right for you. There’s something for everyone: sales, research and development, management, advocacy, policy, teaching, event programming and marketing.

Where possible, maintain your flexibility if you are unsure of your limits and clashing priorities. It takes time to settle into a practice and casual or part-time positions can help smooth out the road.

There is also ample locum work for those who are interested. It can be refreshing to have a change of scenery, see how other practices operate, work with a new patient base and colleagues.

Don’t forget to log off

There’s no dispute the internet has changed our lives. We are able to connect with our peers in new ways and further our knowledge anywhere, anytime. But are you putting measures in place to disconnect from time to time?

Social media can affect your mood and self-esteem, but remember, we’re all human, and it’s very easy to craft a persona or ‘image’ that may not be faithful to reality.

Take a break from endlessly scrolling. Most connected devices now have ‘focus’ settings and log screen time — set up these features to curb any excess use. Remember your obligations and embody a supportive and positive culture when posting or commenting online. Engage with some content unrelated to work, too!

What can I do next?

Dental Practitioner Support provides free and confidential support to dental practitioners and students Australia wide and is here to help you with any health related issues. If you would like to speak to someone call us 24/7 on 1800 377 700 or you can request support via email.

If you would like to know a bit more about the service before getting in contact — take a look at our website and how you can access support.